Claire Smith, the first African-American female newspaper reporter to cover Major League Baseball on a daily basis, has won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the top honor for a baseball writer.
The Spink Award goes to a writer for “meritorious contributions to baseball writing” and is presented during Hall of Fame Weekend, July 28-31, 2017, in Cooperstown, New York. The announcement, based on balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, was made Tuesday during the winter meetings.
Smith, who received 272 votes from 449 ballots, including three blanks, represented the New York chapter of the BBWAA.
— Baseball Hall ⚾ (@baseballhall) December 6, 2016
Smith is a coordinating editor for ESPN’s universal news group, with an emphasis on baseball. She previously worked as a reporter for the Hartford Courant, as a national baseball columnist at The New York Times and as a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Smith was given a standing ovation when her election was announced, and she asked the other half dozen women in the room to stand alongside her as she spoke.
Her voice quavering, Smith thanked “the guys that stood up to the athletes and teams and said that we are your peers and we deserve to be treated like you.
“I want to thank you as well as the women who walked the walk and fought the battles and got all of us to this point,” she said. “No one does this by themselves.”
Among Smith’s other honors, she has earned the Legacy Award from the National Association of Black Journalists in 2011 and the Mary Garber Pioneer Award from the Association for Women in Sports Media in 2000. Smith also has been honored with the Sam Lacy Legacy Award by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and MLB.com.
Smith, 62, is a trailblazer for women in sports media and fought for equal access. Notably, she was physically removed from the clubhouse by San Diego Padres players in the 1984 National League Championship Series with the Chicago Cubs. Former MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who once fought to keep female sports writers out of major league clubhouses, later called her “the best baseball writer in America.”
Scott Powers, deputy sports editor of the Courant, said he uses Claire as an example to new writers of how to treat co-workers. “Such a kind person to editors working inside, and writers in the field,” he said. “Pure grace under fire.”
When an earthquake struck at the 1989 World Series in Oakland, California, Powers said Smith was there with another Courant writer, Jack O’Connell. When Smith was finally able to find a working phone, her first question to Powers was, “I can’t find Jack. Have you heard from Jack?” After he was able to reassure her that Jack was fine, and she made sure he contacted Jack’s family, “a magnificent, newsy story was filed by Claire,” Powers said.
Award finalist Jim Reeves, the longtime Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist and Texas Rangers beat writer, received 118 votes; Juan Vene, of the South Florida chapter, had 56.